World News

Talks between Russia and Georgia break off

MOSCOW/TBILISI (Reuters) - A planned second meeting between Georgia, its rebel region of South Ossetia and Russia under EU auspices was broken off Thursday, with accusations traded over who was to blame.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August for control of South Ossetia, which has been under separatist control since the break-up of the Soviet Union and is backed by Moscow.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry said South Ossetians boycotted the meeting, while Russian media reported the Georgian side had gone back on a previous agreement.

Georgia met officials from the region for the first time on April 23 in the town of Ergneti in the conflict zone near the border with South Ossetia, at talks facilitated by the EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted a Russian military representative as saying at his base in South Ossetia that ex-Soviet Georgia had forced the cancellation of the new talks.

“The Georgian side, despite an earlier agreement, refused to hold this meeting on its territory in the town of Ergneti,” he was quoted as saying.

A Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman disagreed.

“The meeting did not take place because we agreed during the previous one that the next one would be held in Gori but (South) Ossetians refused to come to Gori and informed us of this only yesterday,” a spokesman said.

Gori is about 60 km (35 miles) west of the capital Tbilisi, further from South Ossetia.

Tbilisi severed diplomatic ties with Moscow following the conflict last year and rejects South Ossetia’s self-declared independence, which only Moscow recognizes.

The first meeting was aimed at creating a security mechanism that would reduce tensions and potential incidents in the conflict zone. The draft of the mechanism was agreed between Georgia and Russia during talks in Geneva in February.

EU officials were not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow and Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, edited by Richard Meares